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Beyond Proof: Credibility Assessment in EU Asylum Systems

The aim of the EU Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is to ensure that, regardless of the Member State in which an application for international protection is lodged, the application should receive the same level of treatment as regards procedural arrangements and status determination. The objective of the CEAS is that “similar cases should be treated alike and result in the same outcome.”12 Even if Member States apply the same legal concepts in accordance with the Qualification and Asylum Procedures Directives and adopt a common interpretation of the provisions therein, given that credibility findings can be determinative of the outcome of an application, the examination of similar cases may result in different outcomes across the EU if the approach to the assessment of credibility differs.

Variances in outcomes may also occur within national jurisdictions where individual decision-makers exercise significant discretion and employ different approaches to credibility assessment. This has been recognized by the EU, which has taken steps through the European Asylum Support Office (hereinafter EASO) to address the issue. The EASO, which is tasked with providing support to Member States’ efforts to implement the standards set in the second phase of the CEAS, has established a Centre for Training, Quality and Expertise. This centre delivers a common training programme, the European Asylum Curriculum (hereinafter EAC), for national asylum officials across the EU that includes a module specifically on evidence assessment, including the credibility assessment.

With this report, UNHCR hopes to contribute to the further harmonization of Member State practices as they relate to the assessment of credibility. The report provides insights into some state practices on specific aspects of the credibility assessment. As such, it does not purport to provide a comprehensive overview or comparative analysis of evidentiary rules and practices in the EU. UNHCR’s own observation and recommendations in this area reflect the experience and challenges in its own capacity as refugee status determination decision-making body, and in particular the extensive work undertaken in recent years to support and train decision-makers in this area.

There is a pressing need for comprehensive and up-to-date guidance on credibility assessment to address the challenges inherent in evidentiary law in asylum claims. UNHCR has therefore embarked on the review of its existing guidance with a view to producing updated guidelines on credibility assessment that reflect recent developments in international refugee law and other relevant areas of law. This report does not constitute that final guidance.

Instead, the report seeks to identify and clarify some key concepts. As such, UNHCR hopes that the report will contribute to providing a more solid foundation to inform the necessary discussions at EU level for the further harmonization of credibility assessment practices. The state practices observed during the research and evidenced through the jurisprudence of national courts are used as illustrations of the issues discussed in the report.

Given the limited resources and time available for the project, the scope of this report extends only to selected aspects of credibility assessment. These consist of the purpose of the credibility assessment and its place in the overall process of establishing the facts, the principles underpinning the credibility assessment, the ‘shared burden’, the credibility indicators, and the benefit of the doubt. The structure of the report has been built around these concepts.